As Pedorthists, we are frequently asked by our patients if their high heels are really that bad for their feet. There is never a simple answer to this question, as there are so many factors to consider. Each pair of high heels will be different, in the same way that each patient’s body will react differently to wearing high heels.
There are three main factors to consider when wearing high heels; where/when you are wearing them, the height of the heel and the shape of the shoe.
The first thing to consider is what you are doing while wearing your heels. If you are only wearing them for special occasions, or if your job involves sitting for the majority of your day, wearing heels should not cause a big problem. If you spend a lot of time on your feet while at or travelling to work, consider wearing a flat, supportive shoe just for your commute. If your job requires a lot of standing or walking or other wise spend a significant portion of your day on your feet, you might want to reconsider those heels.
The height of the heel plays a large role in how the shoe alters your body mechanics. As the height of the heel increases, the ankle becomes less stable, more weight is forced onto the ball of your foot and your calf muscle and achilles tendon shorten, causing compensations at the knee, hip and low back to prevent you from falling forwards.Â The small bones in the front of your feet are not meant to carry a large portion of your body weight for extended periods of time. Lower heels pose less of a risk, but still increase the pressure on this more delicate area of the foot.
The shape of any shoe — heeled or not — significantly impacts the mechanics and comfort of the front of your feet. Pointed toe or narrow fitting shoes crowd the metatarsals (the long bones in the front of your foot) and can cause pinching of the small nerves that run in between them. Choosing a shoe with “enough room to wiggle your toes”, and with a round or square shape is healthier for your little piggies.
There are several foot conditions that may be caused (in part), or exacerbated by wearing high heels:
Metatarsalgia The burning, tingling, numbness or shooting pain in the ball of the foot can be directly related to footwear that is too restrictive or high-heeled. Shoes that are pointed or too narrow restrict the movement of the toes and compress the small nerves that run in-between the toes. compression of these nerves can cause or worsen the symptoms of metatarsalgia
Bunions A bunion is caused when the joint of the big toe starts to deviate from its neutral position. As the joint changes, a bunion forms from the stress placed on the joint. Heels exacerbate the progression of bunions, and the painful symptoms that come with them. The higher the heel, the greater the risk.
Corns, Calluses and Blisters High heels can cause pinching and rubbing of the foot, leading to various skin irritations. With high heels, the foot is forced forward in the shoe, crowding the toes together. Fit of the shoe at the heel is also difficult, as the foot moves forward, the heel often slips, causing friction at the back of the heel.
Plantar Fasciitis The plantar fascia consists of three bands of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, from the heel to the ball of the foot. This tissue forms the arch of your foot. As you raise your heel, with the toes on the ground, the plantar fascia is stretched. Plantar fasciitis is caused by repetitive strain on the tissue, resulting in an overuse injury. High heels place your foot in a position that constantly stretches the plantar fascia, which can lead to its injury.
Although your heels might not hurt you while you are wearing them, they still might be putting your foot at risk. If you don’t want to give up your heels, try to follow these few simple tips to keep your feet happy:
- Only wear heels that fit perfectly. This will help to avoid the pinching and rubbing that causes metatarsalgia and blisters
- Limit the time you spend in heels. If your schedule requires a lot of standing or walking, save the heels for another day.
- Choose heels that are no higher than 2″. The higher the heel, the greater the risk.
- Give your feet a break. When sitting at your desk or at lunchtime, kick off your heels and give your feet a stretch
If you have any questions about your footwear, contact your SoleScience pedorthist today!